The attack of N’dola in Mali: a turning point in the Malian conflict?

Mobilisation of people in central Mali to ask for peace and security (retrieved from a WhatsApp group)

It’s Monday morning October 25, 2021 in Bamako. My telephone vibrates. I am in a workshop on blogging with young Malians, so I ignore the call. Then there is another call and another one. I look at my telephone screen and I see that a friend is desperately trying to reach me. I step out of the room and call him back. He urges me to listen to the message he just sent me via Whatsapp. It contains a report by his cousin, an inhabitant of the village of N’Dola, not far from Niono in the southern part of the Inner Delta of the river Niger. This cousin recounts what just played out before his very eyes. First there were the jet fighters, attacking the village from the air. Then 30 or so pick-ups with armed men encircle the village. The cousin claims that the vehicles belonged to the Malian army and that the soldiers wore army uniforms as well. The cousin is not the only one who sends around his eye-witness account of the attack. Many other will follow in the Fulani social media networks of which I am member. The pictures of the attack that come along show great cruelty. Allegedly, the army has killed at least seven people and burned down part of N’Dola village.

The following week I would try to understand more about what had happened.

On the same day, 25 October, the Malian government sent out a communiqué  explaining that the army had indeed attacked N’dola,  first by air, and that they had later arrested 14 people (who are now in prison in Bamako). The communiqué continued by saying that the images circulating on social media are ‘macabre’ but false by referring to their origin (indeed one image that circulates is not of the 25th and neither from the region). They say that an immediate investigation will be opened to shed light on the attack on the village. The horrible pictures of violated bodies are not mentioned.

I am in contact with the president of the youth branch of Tabital Pulaaku,  a cultural organization that has become the porte parole for the Fulani and their position in the conflict. He is of course shocked by this attack on N’dola that is a Fulani village, and labels it, as do others, as a new turn in the conflict. The way the bodies are tortured refers to a possible dehumanization of  the Fulani. These conclusions go far, and if true will have huge consequences also for international politics. He was invited to join a delegation from Tabital Pulaaku to visit the site of the massacre. But the visit is rescheduled to the 10th of November earliest, as the government does not allow them to visit the village. In a WhatsApp exchange on the 11th of November he told me that the visit would probably be on the 15th of November.

The area around the village seems to be occupied by  the followers of Hamadoun Kouffa, the leader of Katiba Macina, that is part of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims—JNIM). For the government and international organizations they are terrorists. For the inhabitants of the region they are one of the armed groups that make their lives difficult. Apart from the Jihadi groups there are the Dozo (hunter groups who defend the villages) and non-specified armed (criminal) groups that profit from the insecurity situation. The village is situated in a region where the past few months tensions have been rising. According to the messages in various social media groups of which I am part, acts of violence against the population are increasing, like the burning of rice fields and millet harvests, disappearance of people, and attacks on buses, villages, etc. Exact figures about these violations do not exist. The cercle de Niono has become part of the attempts by the armed Jihadi groups to increase their influence.

During the workshop that I was attending that 25th of October, I heard a youth from the region saying: ‘we are all victims’. He expressed his feelings of fear openly and said that the different armed groups in the cercle de Niono are in a way fighting each other on the detriment of the population. For him it is clear  that the government has lost control and the population is left on its own.

After the 25th the messages to prove what has happened in N’dola are circulating on social media. But not the media of everybody, and the interpretation of the images varies. One evening in a taxi in Bamako I was overhearing the exchange between the taximan and the passenger in the front seat. The taximan declaring openly that the Fulani, les Peuls, are clearly the Jihadists.  It is them who make life in Mali now impossible. Also in Bamako people start feeling the approach of the conflict and such conversations in a taxi show the rising tensions and fear.

The N’dola case and the reaction in the communiqué of the Malian government, its partial presence on social media, relate to the complexity of the actual moment of the conflict situation in Mali.

First, the fight against terrorism as it is internationally labelled, is not very successful. It seems that the armed groups that follow an Islamic ideology, such as Kaatiba Macina and  Kaatiba Serma in Central Mali, are gaining terrain. Although officially denied, there seems to be an attempt by the government to get into dialogue with these Jihadi groups. Local negotiations between armed groups (mainly of Dozo and Jihadi pointure) have been on-going in local settings now for a year or so with more and less success. The peace agreements (or rather cease-fire) that followed such local negotiations, for instance in Bankass, and in the cercle Niono, may be understood as a local success, but at the same time they legitimize the presence of the Jihadi groups in the region. As Boubacar Ba, a Malian researcher and head of the NGO Eveil, recently commented in a social media post, there is a diversity of such agreements, that are difficult to place under a common umbrella. After such agreements it seems that the Jihadi groups can define the rules. Some parts of Mali are now living under Sharia Law.

Les accords varient très souvent (…) Ces accords sont un vrai labyrinthe pour certains et peut être une aubaine pour d autres. (Boubacar Ba, Novembre 2021, post qui circule dans les groupes WhatsApp)

Secondly, it is also the moment of a discussion that is turning around geo-political dynamics. The call of the Malian government, the junta who took power via a coupe d’Etat in August 2021, to seek help of the Russian private security company Wagner has moved the (inter)national positions. It is a follow-up of the debate  around the retreat of France’s troops. France has been the subject of protest and critique by the Malian Government and part of popular discussion in Mali, so far concentrated in Bamako, where in various protest marches the people carried placards demanding the retreat of France. This sentiment is fed by the position of the Malian government who, via the rhetoric of the prime minister Choguel, is ventilating its discontent with the decisions taken in the Elysée. These discussions happen at the moment the Junta tries to postpone the promised elections to move Malian government back to civil rule. Recently ECOWAS imposed sanctions on the Malian government, amongst others to urge them to organize elections.

A third factor is the human rights situation in Mali. The army is regularly accused of acts that violate human rights. The army denies it commits atrocities. Although to obtain hard proof seems difficult, there is enough evidence that in some cases also the Malian army did not keep to the rules of war.

These three reasons make that the narrative around N’dola has to be handled carefully. For the Malian government it comes at a highly volatile situation with the French troops retreating from Mali, and the advancing Jihadi occupation of the country. That explains why they would rather not be associated with such war crimes as happened in N’dola that may further undermine their credibility also in international circles. On the other hand the narrative of N’dola may also fuel further polarization and (ethnic) violence. The N’dola case should be understood with all such consequences, but it should be known to the public. The article published by Studio Tamani on 9 November has broken the (partial) silence around the situation in the cercle de Niono. This blog post hopes to do the same.

We are extremely worried! What will happen in the Sahel?

Bamako protest april

Protest in Bamako 5 April 2019,

Many thousands of people have been protesting on Friday 5 April 2019 in the capital of Mali, Bamako.  It was massive. Also in Bandiagara, Bankass people went to the streets. Earlier protests in Paris, and elsewhere in the world were organized where people expressed their worry about a possible horror scenario in the Sahel. Mali is at the centre of these worries, but many make allusion to a much wider problem. The killing of 170 people in three villages near Bankass on the 23rd of March is the immediate reason for the protests in Mali. The Ogossougou massacre will be forever part of the history of Mali and the Sahel.

I was in Mali on this 23rdof March, living the horror with my colleagues of a research team doing research on political developments in Mali, with all Bamakois and with myself. Most of the killed people were innocent Fulani pastoralists among who were some who fled the horror of earlier troubles around another village in the Koro district. Beginning this year another deadly attack was in Koulogon also near to Bankass, where 37 people found their death. These attacks reach the international press, but many smaller attacks are hardly noticed not even within Mali and are a daily phenomenon for almost two years now. Not only Fulani pastoralists but also sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups in the region are victims. The killings on the Fulani seem to be higher in number, but we cannot be sure because they are also more mediatized. One of the problems is that we do not have information about what is exactly happening. We spoke with displaced Dogon and Fulbe in the South of Mali (near Bougouni) and in the Capital city Bamako and their stories are all equally horrible.[1]


Discussing the situation with displaced Dogon in a village near Bougouni @Mirjam 2019

Multiple Emotions
Certainly the underlying causes for this situation are multiple. We already touched on some of these in other blog posts. Making a sound analysis is almost impossible to do now, soon after these events and with the turmoil in my head. It is important to take a distance first from my own emotions.

Therefore I decided to write this short blog to warn against fast interpretations of these violent events in emotional terms, and against superficial analyses. This would be very dangerous in the extremely tense situation that we are facing in Mali and other Sahelian countries. Many of the reactions are borne out of extreme concern with the region, and from a genuine sentiment of ‘feeling worried’. The urgency to do something is also big. But who should do something? Who are the right actors to do things and talk with?

People from all ethnic groups, urban and rural, different economic classes were present, joined the marches. It gives an idea of unity. Whereas in written reports it is not easy to avoid to create oppositions. Authors use sentences between brackets to avoid any presupposed biases. It is difficult to be neutral and to try to just describe. The phrasing of the problems by displaced Dogon we met in a village about 50 km south from Bamako towards Bougouni struck me. They refused to accuse the Fulbe, but said it were ‘yimbe ladde’ (people from the bush) they did not know.


Displaced people live on the garbage heap of Faladié, Bamako @Mirjam 2019

We also met Fulbe refugees in dilapidated huts on the garbage heap in the middle of Bamako. They are angry but not angry with a specific ethnic group. They do not really understand what is happening around them. However, following the last attack, these displaced people who have lived through such difficult times start to use a different language acquired from their elites. Especially Fulani elites have been quite vocal in their accusations. After this last massacre they tried to moderate their language but they already aired their emotions in previous interviews and publications on Facebook. The use of the word genocide is no longer taboo and ethnic cleansing also appears in reports.

Multiple Voices
The marches were full of anger and emotions, of course; like the media who reported about them. In one article the number of people in the streets went up to 30,000, others report more modest numbers. In the march in Bamako different reasons and emotions crisscross the street. It is both a cry for peace and the stopping of the awfull violence. It is also a march that protests against the government. Most Malians are appalled and ashamed by this intercommunity violence. They do not recognize themselves in this hatred. Religious, cultural, and political organizations called for the march. Each with their own agenda.


Being connected is important to learn and to link, displaced person in the South charging a battery with solar energy @Mirjam 2019

The people who step in have to be aware of those agendas and let’s hope that they will not be instrumentalized by these organizations. Malians have more than the intercommunity violence to be angry about. The state does not function, schools are closed, hospitals do not function, and many people have difficulties to feed their children more than once a day. This combination will feed the emotions that make the opposition camps to the government stronger and stronger, but that will not be a guarantee to end the violence because they can also be used to scapegoat other groups in society.

We will continue to follow the situation and hope to come up with good analyses. Such analyses can only be multi-vocal. It will take time to understand all the different voices. The problem is that we have no time as the situation is degrading every day.

[1] The research project for which I was in Mali concentrates on the ‘new pastoralists movements’ in the Sahel.

Poverty and Youth: a recipe for change in Mali?


Sheep along the road in Bamako @Mirjam, mob phone

El-Eid Tabaski in Bamako
It is Friday 9 September and I am sitting in a taxi that takes me through traffic-congested Bamako. Sheep are packed along the roads, waiting to be eaten during the Muslim feast of Tabaski on Monday, 12th. People are in town to organize this feast: to get their hair done, buy new clothes, and buy sheep. Bamako is busy. Yesterday, the driver of the 4W-drive big car of the organization which invited me, Groupe Odyssee, funded by the Dutch Embassy, was complaining. Sheep are expensive and clothing the family is almost impossible, but one has to do it. The taxi driver this Friday is shouting as he navigates through the city – at the moto taxis, at the pedestrians who do not watch out, at the congested roads, and the bad roads. And then at each roundabout he calls some children hanging around to give them a kind of millet cookies. He explains: it is Friday-sadaqa, a gift for those who do not have anything on the holy Friday, the Muslim prayers day.The children are twins, from poor mothers. I see poverty not only at these roundabouts. More than I remember (but memory is a tricky thing) young people are sitting along the roads, doing nothing, while many others are doing small jobs, carrying heavy loads, selling nil, trying to make a living. Bamako is full and more (young) people are coming every day. The mountains are no longer green, the bush is replaced by houses. Houses that are shacks. But also, as in every town in Africa, big houses of those who do well. They do well despite the war, and despite economic difficulties. The contrast pains.


shops along the road @Mirjam, mob phone

It is war in Mali. One can feel it and one can see it in Bamako. The occupation of the North in 2012 has deeply affected the city. Especially the attacks that followed after as a direct consequence of the situation in the North. Hotels are barricaded, soldiers are on the street, military is visible everywhere. But this feeling is especially fed by the stories and the analysis made by friends and colleagues. They do not see much good in the government. The president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) is becoming dissociated from the people. The last actions to clean the city are just an example. The déguerpissement of the sides of the streets, sweeping away the small shacks that are the shops and workshops of (often young) people who have no jobs and try to make something out of nothing every day. They lost to make place for the Summit de la Francophonie to be held in Bamako in 2017. People are angry about this and see their vote for IBK go up in smoke. He does not do much for them.

Urban youth protest! 
Recently (mid-August) one of the most popular radio-journalists and public figure was arrested: Ras-Bath (Youssouf Mohamed Bathily). He was arrested because he was telling the truth about the situation in Mali, questioning the actions of the government. Ras-Bath has his own radio show ‘Carte sur Table’ and is extremely popular among young people. When he was arrested many youth from Bamako went to the street to support him. Facebook was invaded with support messages. The government is not keen on demonstrating youth and the demonstration was oppressed with two young people killed. Subsequently the mobile internet connections were shut down.

Boni Youth
Early September another event reached the headquarters of the international press: Boni, a small town in central Mali, was occupied by ‘jihadists’.The story is a little fuzzy. Apparently the military had retreated from Boni, leaving it in the hands of the population. The youth groups, so-called Jihadists, who have their camps in the region, took their chance to manifest their power and ‘conquered’ Boni… for a few days. The military finally took it back. Instead of questioning what happened and who these young military, associating clearly with jihadist movements, are, they are coined as terrorists and will be trialed if they can be arrested. But indeed, who are these young men, part of the youth population of Mali?

Disgruntled youth
In another blog and a publication of Boukary Sangaré, we tried to find out what is behind these stories other than criminal acts and terrorism. They are also part of the disgruntled youth, who form more than 60% of the Malian population and who feel that there is not enough attention for them, that they are forgotten. The Boni youth have a pastoral nomadic background. Pastoral nomads in central Mali feel marginalized and indeed their livelihood is threatened by shrinking pasture areas, difficulties related to ecology, and now the insecurity in the region. These pastoral youth have no real future within their own livelihood and tend to search for other possibilities, among which the Jihadist movements.

Mali is expected to be one of the youngest nations in the near future, with more than 60% of its population younger than 25. They need a future. Although the Boni and Urban youth seem to differ a lot, they do share conditions of life and the impossibility to build a future: feeling (and being) marginalized, no employment, poverty. Changing ministers in the government will not help to solve these problems. NGOs and international programs propose as one of the solutions the creation of employment for the youth. This sounds as a possibility to relieve part of the problem, but as so far shown creating jobs is not easy in a poverty economy. Furthermore, even when young people are invited to give their take on the solution of the problems in international forums or discussions organized by NGOs, these are often not the illiterate youth from poor urban neighborhoods, or  from pastoral nomads communities.

Life continues
And while poverty and youth mingle, multiple billions are spent on the UN peace mission in Mali that dominates and creates the city today, and the Malian government will spend lots of money on the reception of the Summit de la Francophonie in January 2017. The (educated) elites profit from the NGO machinery that was set in motion. The sheep will be killed, many children will not be dressed as they should have been for Tabaski, although their parents tried their best. The youth will quell a whole history of frustrations with another tea. When will the youth be invited to join the negotiation tables?

‘Ensemble pour un Tchad Émergent’?


Posters from the elections campaign still present in N’djaména with one of the MPS election slogans (photo from internet)

On August 8, 2016, Idriss Déby Itno was (re)installed as president, for his fifth term.  The electoral victory was celebrated exuberantly and was well attended by international guests. Present were i.a. the presidents of Mali, Niger, Mauretania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the minister of defence of France and several representatives of European Union and the USA. Their particular presence shows how power is divided in the world.


Chiefs of State in Louis IV chairs attending (@RFI)

The war on terrorism was one of the major topics in Déby’s speech, and these presidents ‘profit’ from the strong presence of Chad in this fight. With the other leaders they are the power holders who support each other, hidden behind the façade of a ‘Tchad émergent’. Electoral fraud investigation follows international rules and cannot be invoked by the will of the people.  The leaders were guided through the beautiful and luxurious hotels in the cleaned up neighbourhood Sabangali, along the river Chari, where they were received in one of the most high-end Hilton hotels. The airport roads were cleaned and the entrance to N’djamena beautified.

At the (litteral) background of this ceremony, were protests and ‘villes morts’, despite the ban on demonstrations. On the morning of the 8th, after the march had already been dispersed with teargas, a young man was killed and another man got wounded somewhere else in N’djaména. According to the testimony of a motor taxi driver, he had nothing to do with the protests. He simply came by bus, to the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to visit his family. These were the casualties to be accepted, so it seems. Not much publicity was given to it. Musicians were invited to celebrate by singing the louanges for the regime at the different roundabouts in the city. One of the musicians asked for more attention to the problems the population is facing in Chad. As a reaction, the national TV broadcasting the ceremonies and events was taken out of the air and the musician was kindly asked to move on.

That day N’djaména was not for civilians, but for politicians.

Future of misery
The outcome of the elections in Chad is heavily contested. The Chadian population seems to put up with the fraudulent facts. They have no choice. The movements, protests, people who were killed are not heard, their plight forgotten. The interests are clear: stability and security in Central and West Africa. A friend in N’djamena told me: ‘We do not matter, they forget us, we are non-existent’. The coming five years Chad will not raise itself out of poverty, movements and protests will be a monthly occurrence. Such is the forecast of pessimists. The signs are there that they might be right.


N’djaména’s hidden side, but reality (@Mirjam)


N’djaména ‘vitrine de l’Afrique’: Place de Nation

Many Chadians live a difficult life, also those who thought to have a bright future. The petrol income has dropped to such a low level, that the oil fields are closed down and the personnel who were so wealthy and living spectacular lives, are sent home, being suspended. The huge number of motor-taxis in N’djaména shows the hidden youth unemployment. For the last three months teachers and professors have not received any salary. And even though the reasons behind the strike by students and professors are legitimate, it does not help to get paid. They hope to take up work if their salaries are being paid in September.

Knowledge Power
The non-functioning university, however, does not seem to bother Chadian leaders in the least. Is this a deliberate policy to keep knowledge institutions deprived of good means? A population that does not know the full picture will not protest. Since the elections, there have been ‘technical problems’ with the internet on a daily basis. Facebook and WhatsApp no longer function. The closing down of several sites, however, are discussed as being a political act. The movements and protests around the elections were basically featured through Facebook and Facebook activism by the diaspora was really reaching part of the population in Chad. Add to this the high costs to make a call or to link to the internet and read an email and it becomes clear that for a large part of the population information is inaccessible, they are made deaf and blind. This does not, however, stop the younger generations to access social media through VPN techniques which have gone viral in Chad.

The State informs through state media, informing the population (who have a TV) about the huge investments of the government in the city, the marvellous plans of the President for his new term and of course showing pictures of the ceremonies and festivities sharing the image of ‘Le Tchad émergent’. The state treasury’s last billions are spent on image building for the international community.

Presidential elections in Chad: Confusion


‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’
(Facebook Messenger)

10 April: day of the votes
No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no sms messages: this all leads to a weird silence. ‘What are they afraid of?’ asked Croquemort, Chadian protest slam artist, on Facebook. He is in Europe so he is able to post. The answer of other diaspora Chadians is that it is the fear for the people. We are wondering: what is happening in Chad today? Are we witnessing a real change in the political landscape? Is it possible that the sitting dictator/President will be sent away by the ballot box? Will he allow such a transition?

In this blog ‘report’ I summarize my experiences of the Presidential elections in Chad where, eventhough the official outcome has still to be finalised, it is clear that the current President Déby will remain in power, after having already served during a  period of 26 years. This is bad news for the large group of people who voted against him. The first results circulating on Facebook and in bars and the outcomes as announced by the government on 21April are so divergent that the future of Chadian politics is very insecure.  Read more about the elections in the blog of Deuh’b Emmanuel



Kebzabo’s Facebook picture: in front of the masses…

The campaign
The campaign started on 20 March (see previous blog) and the closer the day of the elections the more posts on Facebook. The day before the elections  numerous were the postings on Facebook supporting Saleh Kebzabo, the main opposition candidate to the President. At the ‘Place de la Nation’ Kebzabo assembled more people than the outgoing President Déby did a few days earlier. In Moundou, Kebzabo created a huge crowd in the streets. The pictures posted on Facebook also showed a huge amount of people supporting Kebzabo in Fianga. No doubt that this is real. And it seems indeed that Déby, who certainly wants to be in power for the coming years, did not expect such an overwhelming support for his rival Kebzabo (and by the way for a third candidate, Médard, the mayor of Moundou, economic capital of the south). It is expected that Déby will do everything to keep his power. But from what we have been observing, his power base is crumbling. Are people really fed up with him?

Skepticism about the influence of the diaspora and social media in the political process seems to have definitively settled with the events in Chad. It can simply not be denied how social media have been influencing the process and will influence the process in its ability to follow the elections and report about it. Citizen journalism at its best!

9 April was the day the military would vote. They voted and were expected to support the sitting President. One bureau in the North, where military voted, became the issue on Facebook. The voting was not done in a private environment, but everybody could follow who the soldiers would vote for. Eight soldiers who very openly refused to vote for Déby but supported Kebzabo, were arrested and put in prison. One of them was able to call his family and they (via contacts in the Netherlands) were able to connect to the most active diaspora Facebook-writer in Paris (‘fils de Maina’) who posted the story on Facebook. Nothing is hidden; the story is scandalous.

Voting: informal results
On 10 April more information about the voting was released by members of the diaspora, who obtain this information through calling with their informants in Chad; Despite the biometric cards, stories about fraud and many strange things that are happening during the elections circulate. Apparently the voices of the population can no longer be silenced. (blog Marielle Debos)

In one of his posts, fils de Maina analyses the elections and comes to a stunning conclusion: It could indeed happen that the votes are turned in such a way that Déby will win, but this time the population will not accept.

And then there were the weird moves of the French and the European Union – who urged the population to accept the results – and their demand to Kebzabo to accept the offer of the Déby to become Prime Minister: were they preparing the victory of Déby? The international community is following the elections eagerly as they do not wish Deby defeat, as that would probably mean an end to the Chadian interventions in the war on terror.

A friend confided in me during a Facebook Messenger exchange: ‘We are afraid of what will come’.

Sitting in my house in the Netherlands, Croquemort and I were convinced that there should be a second round, after all, Déby could not claim the first round, given the results that were published on Facebook.

21 April: announcements of (preliminary) results
Thursday night (21 April) MPS supporters’ rifles burst into N’Djamena’s air. After the winning results for their President, they were full of joy. Their bullets injured a lot of people and could be interpreted as a warning not to demonstrate. ‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’.The fraud election results, showing 61.5 % for President Déby and hence a prolongation of his term, will most probably lead to unrest in Chad. The future is very uncertain.

Of course everybody was expecting fraud, but the openness of it is stunning! After three empty announcements that the election results would be published, finally, on Thursday 21 April, Chadian television. broadcasted the press conference. The results were read first by the president of the CENI, (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) and then by others. They went from the northern to the southern provinces. I was (in the Netherlands) with Croquemort, who was increasingly getting angry and was stupefied
by the announced results. Saleh Kebzabo, who was the croq electiosnbig winner in the pre-results which circulated on the internet, happened to be the big loser. In a few southern provinces he had around 50 %, but the huge victory was not given to him. Instead, Idriss Déby got most of the votes, losing only in a few provinces. In N’Djamena he had 50%, in the northern provinces over 80%, and  a mere 24% in the south. We knew this would happen, but had hoped for results that would have allowed for a second round between Kebzabo and Déby, but alas… The regime of Déby has taken the situation in its hands.
N’ Djamena and other cities are militarized, surveillance is everywhere.

The moment of waiting had come for the opposition to take the future in their hands. Will they indeed develop a shadow government? Or will they all turn to the party of Déby, like four of them already did? Everything can be bought. These four simply have chosen to become part of the system and have a good job, incorporated in the government.

RFI (Radio France International) reported neutrally. The French have asked Kebzabo to accept a post as Prime Minister. He has not accepted. Further silence from the side of the French. And the EU? The Americans?

Facebook, Whatsapp and SMS were all still blocked. No exchanges possible since 10 April, the day of the elections, except for those who know how to circumvent, how to hack.

29 April: Protest?
Facebook and all other connections are back. On 29 April the opposition announced the real results: Saleh Kebzabo and Laoukein Kourayo Mbaiherem Médard (the mayor of Moundou) are on top (resp. 31 and 24%), Déby is the fourth with 10 % of the votes. How these figures were composed is not clear, but they come closer to the informal outcome as was reported just after the elections.

Information is politics!

read as well the blog of Makaila and see this post of Maina with his as ever strong statements:

maina elections


Memories of Lumumba: Victimhood and Redemption

This is a guest blog written by Meike de Goede, lecturer at Leiden University.

On Victimhood and Redemption – Lumumba and historic imagery in the Congo

fig67_webTshibumba Kanda Matulu, Democratic Republic of the CongoThe Historic Death of Lumumba, Mpolo and Okito, on January 1961, not dated

In her recent blogpost ‘Legendary Words’, Mirjam de Bruijn asks the important question what today’s critical voices in Africa do with the words of people like Lumumba, Sankara and Fanon, inspirational heroes and activists of a past generation. When I lived in Kinshasa, I learned from young people, ngo workers, political activists, but also members of the political elites, police and army, and business elites that Lumumba is indeed an important symbol that practically all Congolese people carry in their hearts and minds. But it is not his words that have made such a lasting impression. In a recent article I argued that, instead, it is his death and the meaning of his death in Congolese history that carries the symbolic value. His death that has become almost like an original sin of independent Congo and from which people seek redemption ever since.

The symbolism of the tragedy of Lumumba is deeply Christian. In Congolese visual art he is often portrayed with the three crosses of Golgotha on the background. He died to save the people of the Congo. The fact that there are no physical remains of his body thus adds to the symbolic value of Lumumba as messiah. In the eyes of many Congolese, former colonial power Belgium and its American allies killed Lumumba because they did not want Congo to be truly free. Lumumba was claiming that true freedom when he uttered that impromptu speech on Independence Day and thus had to die.

For the people of Congo today, what happened to Lumumba remains an important lesson about how the world works. And people are constantly reminded that this remains to be so. The fight for true freedom, for redemption from this original sin, remains the political struggle for the Congolese for a genuine independence. The perpetual misery that the country has known since its independence is framed in this meta narrative of perpetual victimhood of foreign domination. According to this view on history, Mobutu was a pawn of Western powers, Rwandese intervention in 1996 was instrumentalized by Western powers through its pawn Rwanda, and the perpetual conflict ever since is only the latest in a series of strategies to prevent Congo from being truly sovereign and for the people to profit from the country’s wealth. Lumumba thus represents the perpetual relations of domination and subordination between the powerful western world and Africa, and the almost impossible quest for redemption.

Identifying with Lumumba the saviour of the dignity and freedom of the Congo is therefore almost a necessary discourse for anybody that advocates real change in this troubled country. When Laurent-Désiré Kabila (a self-proclaimed Lumumbist freedom fighter) was shot dead, a popular comment was that he was ‘shot by his body guard, remote controlled by the West’. Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very unpopular with Western powers, and claimed that his toppling of Mobutu was the completion of the struggle for independence. A few years later he was dead, in the eyes of many Congolese, it was history repeating itself.

Besides the power of the words that Lumumba spoke, the imagery of Lumumba is a truly powerful narrative of perpetual victimhood that frames people’s understanding of their relations with the rest of the world and with the whole industry of development aid and peacebuilding that has swarmed the country in recent decades.

Paradoxically, the imagery of Lumumba simultaneously claims and denies agency. People find inspiration to claim true freedom and dignity, and to break the dark cloud of victimhood that hangs over Congo ever since the death of Lumumba, to fight for redemption. This is a truly effective populist political discourse that any aspiring political leader will draw on. On the other hand, it is a narrative that essentially emphasises the lack of agency to determine one’s own destiny and the inability to ever escape the perpetual misery of an all-powerful west that continues to dominate Congo using whatever means necessary. It is a narrative of victimhood, a promise of heroic victimhood that succeeds in redeeming Congolese people, and a warning of tragic victimhood that can essentially never escape victimhood. As such it has become a paradoxical narrative that enables current President Kabila to argue that he is fighting to reclaim Congolese dignity, while people simultaneously know that he can actually not achieve this, or he will pay for it with his life. Even opposition members told me that they understood that President Kabila has his hands tied – ‘look what happened to his father’.

The tragedy of Lumumba has thus become the tragedy of the country and its people as a whole – captured in a ruthless game of power and money in which they are only objects. They cannot control their destiny, claim and exercise their sovereignty. Herein lies the true tragedy of the history of Lumumba for Congo today – the narrative perpetuates a position of victimhood and make people believe they lack agency, to take control over their lives and make the changes they so desperately need and deserve. The events with Lumumba have left the Congolese with a fundamental distrust with the rest of the world. A meta narrative that is so strong, and that people see constantly repeated throughout the course of history, that people have lost the confidence that they can escape from it, trusting neither western donors nor Congolese political elites. But it is also a narrative that continues to call for redemption and that gives people hope when redemption seems possible. It is at such moments that Lumumba becomes an inspiration for political action. Congo is at a crossroads, again. Will people use the imagery of Lumumba to strive for redemption, to escape from perpetual subjection to bad-governance and to claim the agency to establish democracy, good governance and the true, genuine freedom that Lumumba represents?

Legendary words


Institut Français Tchad, hip-hop art, home for Voices. 2015. Photo: Mirjam de Bruijn

This winter holiday I watched movies about Congolese freedom fighter and first prime minister at Independence, Patrice Lumumba. He is one of the heroes of my friends in N’Djamena, Chad. In these documentaries, Lumumba is presented as educated, integer, socially minded, a little authoritarian, intelligent, and moving toward change, but foremost as a leader in qualm, as if he did not want to become that leader. The time of Lumumba is a time full of controversies, oppositions, and hope. It is a period in which Africa’s new leaders fight for liberation, to gain real independence, to leave the yoke of colonialism. Lumumba’s words of his unplanned speech at Independence Day formed prose that was listened to by all the people of Congo and beyond:

Excerpt from the speech held on 30 June, 1960, Independence Day of Congo

(…) For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory.

Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination?

All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering. (…) Brothers, let us commence together a new struggle, a sublime struggle that will lead our country to peace, prosperity and greatness.

 We shall stop the persecution of free thought. We shall see to it that all citizens enjoy to the fullest extent the basic freedoms provided for by the Declaration of Human Rights.

 We shall institute in the country a peace resting not on guns and bayonets but on concord and goodwill.

Lumumba was killed a few months after he gave this speech, by those internationals who depicted him as communist, and by those nationals who did not want him in power. Justice was not their main wish.

Words of a hero live in the present
The words of Lumumba never left and they do still inspire young people in Africa: young men and women who are fighting for a similar cause, because the optimistic words ending the speech of Lumumba have not become reality up till now. And many of the sufferings Lumumba enumerated in his speech are lived today.


Films keep Lumumba’s words alive

His words are captured in mobile telephones as a ringtone, as I discovered during a voyage in Northern Congo in June 2014, when a young man’s phone spoke Lumumba’s 1960 words (he transferred the mp3 file into my phone). Later I came to understand that these words are listened and referred to by young men and women throughout West and Central Africa, who are fighting for recognition of today’s injustices. For them Lumumba is a hero who at least tried to bring real liberty. But they all feel that that time has not come.

Today’s powerful words
Would it be exaggerating to say that we live again in a period of intense oppositions and injustice? That we enter a new epoch in which development aid comes to an end, in which protest is taking over, be it in severe violent actions, or in popular movements in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Congo, Chad? That this will be a period of insecurity, of new élan, in which new leadership is called for!

Words have power. They make us remember and they encourage actions. Words are very present in the ‘revolutions’ or ‘social movements’ that are spreading through Africa today. Is it not a coincidence that words of songs are central in recent uprisings: ‘Y’en a Marre’ in Senegal, a coalition of rappers and journalists, or rapper Smockey who led with other rappers the movement ‘Balai Citoyen’ in Burkina Faso and all the other hip-hop artists who revive the origins of this protest art (rap and hip-hop), sing about injustice and want to raise awareness? Urban protest art has gained importance in Africa over the past decades. This is not only a consequence of increasing possibilities offered by new technology, but certainly also because there is a serious need for such voices! Slam and spoken word meet increasingly in African festivals. The words carry a message and explain the reasons to protest. Words are non-violent protest.

Words are the future history
Can words carry a revolution? Words are no longer only broadcast by the radio, as was the case in the time of Lumumba, but they are, accompanied by pictures, videos, etc. disseminated by Facebook, social media, text-messages, Bluetooth, whatsapp, etc. They are picked up by international organizations who spread the words into the ether. Words are reaching out to so many people today. Also ‘old’ words appear to be new and forceful in today’s struggles.

The new word-jugglers will never say they follow in the footsteps of their heroes. For them heroes are sacred, untouchable and hence should not be mimicked. But who knows what their words will bring? Who knows what heroes they will be? We will see which of the words of these new leaders will finally end up in the history books and will be labelled memorable by the historians of today’s Africa.

Quest for citizenship of the Fulbe (semi)nomads in Central Mali

 movement in Serma; Ahmadou walks in front' @Boukary Sangaré

The nomads on their way to the first meeting of the Fulbe nomads’ movement in Serma; Ahmadou walks in front. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

Alternative citizenship
Due to increasing possibilities to connect and link to others in a globalizing world, awareness of belonging and the right to belong is on the rise among the Fulbe nomads from the Hayre, Central Mali. This implies claiming rights, of which the most basic is the right to a livelihood that is sustainable (and having the ability to sustain). In many Sahelian regions this right is still to be fulfilled. The ecological conditions and insecurity make the guarantee of a descent livelihood a difficult promise for governments. Nevertheless, this claim is increasingly made by the population. The awareness of injustice leads to protest, silent or explicit; violent or peaceful. The lack of recognition of these protests intensifies the feeling of non-belonging and denial of rights. Hence, citizenship is not only a discursive category, but (the lack of it) has become a real empirical experience for many people.
Citizenship is: the realization of one’s rights and thus the unavoidable confrontation with government bodies and relations of power. These imply divisions of power. I think I am observing in the Sahel and particularly in Central Mali that the old divisions of power are crumbling, which leads to a re-positioning of social groups, in which a claim to citizenship takes many forms. Protest and resistance should probably be considered as the emergence of alternative forms of citizenship. Forms of protest are expressions of the wish to belong. Reactions to these forms of protest are crucial in the process of the realization of accepted forms of citizenship. But such contestation of power is often interpreted (by those in power) as the opposite of citizenship (public disobedience) and the standard reaction is coercive measures. Alternative forms of citizenship have a difficult future in our world.

Nomads unite
For many people who live in the North of Mali, the 2012 conflict meant a new confrontation with the global world. The case of the (semi)nomads of the Hayre is exemplary. Their region being occupied by MNLA and the Jihadist movement MUJAO led to the realization of who they are, and how they relate to their elites. The invisibility of the state, except for the – as violent experienced – actions of the forest service (e.g. fining nomads for cutting wood) against the nomads, became part of their discourses that interpreted their situation as being forgotten by the state, being marginalized. And it led them to create the movement ‘Deewral Pulaaku’, indeed asking for their right to have the decent livelihood they so far had not experienced. They’d analyzed the power relations in their own society and decided that it was time to turn a page in their history. The role of new Communication Technologies is undeniable (see previous blog 1; and 2).

'When MUJAO occupied the region paintings of human faces were covered, Douentza town, August 2013' @Boukary Sangaré

When MUJAO occupied the region, paintings of human faces were covered. Douentza town, August 2013. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

How successful has this nomad movement been so far in claiming their rights within the frame of the Malian state? And which are the forces that hamper or stimulate the continuation of the movement? In which direction will it go?
I was in Mali at the end of September and together with Boukary Sangaré we continued our quest to understand. People were still very hesitant about going to the North. I did not go, but did gather information about what is happening in the North and how the nomads’ movement was progressing. The daily interaction between PhD student-researcher Boukary Sangaré and the people from the Hayre informed us about the developments. We also spoke to some key persons from the Fulani elites and we met again with people from the Dutch Embassy. Our conclusion is that the tide is turning against the possibility for the nomads to succeed in their mission. Indeed, everything indicates that they are denied Malian citizenship, and that their claim is rising. This is also proven by the establishment of yet another movement, ‘Pinal Pulaaku’, of young nomads from the Hayre and Burgu who claim more rights for Fulani nomads who claim a role in the in the resolution of conflict.

Who listens to the nomads?
Recognition is a key in these politics of belonging. One can only belong if one is being recognized as ‘belonged one’. But who recognizes the nomads as a separate group? Who even knows they are a separate group? Among those concerned, like the Malian State, the personnel of MUNISMA and NGOs in the region, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about the social structure of Fulbe society, and hence the presentation as a separate group of nomads is not understood. Often, the recognized spokespeople of the nomads are their elites, but these do not always defend the rights of all nomads. It has become clear these elites and their nomads are no longer on speaking terms. A problem for intervening bodies like the UN or NGOs is that leadership among the nomads is not very clear and negotiations are often with these elites. As long as this obscurity prevails, the nomads will not be listened to. Another problem certainly is language. Fulani is not a main language in circles of intervening bodies, nor of the government.
The presentation of their problems in Bamako during meetings with the EU, Dutch Embassy and MINUSMA did not finally lead to the recognition of these problems and its translation into (aid) actions. Although the interventions in Serma for reconciliation and better communication between gendarmes and nomads and the opening of a transhumance route are certainly seen as positive, these are just small interventions in a huge region and security issues are not solved. The nomads do not feel safe. Ahmadou, one of our main informants, said he cannot rely on ‘these’ people and still has to handle and hassle with tensions in the region, varying from forces of gendarmes to bandits.

Trust in the state is certainly not yet there. Since the establishment of the movement Deewral Pulaaku there have been moments of hope: when Ahmadou and the other leaders visited Bamako, or when they received help when they were imprisoned; on the other hand, both events were a deception: the nomads are regularly arrested and accused of Jihadism. I described this arrest in a previous blog, and on October 8, Boukary received a call from a friend in the region reporting on yet another arrest of a Fulani man, based on the assumption (and fear) that this particular Fulani man would have been part of an attack on a village in the eastern part of the Hayre. Clearly, the meetings in Bamako did not yet lead to what the nomads had hoped for. This became painfully clear when Ahmadou called me after his liberation and said that, despite everything, he had to pay again. Things had not really changed. And they are still confronted with injustice.
Trust is a two-way process. The manner in which the State perceives the Fulani nomads is certainly not one of trust. Since a few months, the increasing appearance of the ‘Front de la Liberation du Maacina’ (FLM) has reinforced the State’s mistrust in the nomads and particularly in the Fulani. This phenomenon first showed in the Inner Delta of the Niger (January2015), when they attacked villages there and destroyed the tombs of Sheku Aamadu, the Fulani leader of the Maacina Empire in the 19th century, who has the status of saint. Destroying the tomb was also an act of showing their Jihadism, and they were from then on officially recognized as one of the Jihadist groups in the North. After this attack other attacks followed. Their presumed leader is Hamadoun Kouffa, a Muslim scholar who has been preaching in the Inner Delta for years and apparently gathered a group of followers. FLM is supposed to be basically Fulani. However, doubts exist if this group is indeed a well-organized force, or if it is a loose network of groups that link to the ideology of Jihadism and prepare attacks.

This was also the tendency in the interviews with Temoré Tioulenta, a prominent leader in the organization Taabital Pulaaku and in the Inner Delta. Most attacks that are done by the FLM are against State services and their employees. Despite this uncertainty around their ‘real’ existence, it is clear that they are increasingly present in the region. Also in the Hayre, camps of this group are observed. For instance just next to Serma, the camp where Ahmadou resides, a group of the FLM has its camp in the bush. Ahmadou contacts them to secure the safety of Serma.

'Fulbe nomads' movement' @Boukary Sangaré

Fulbe nomads’ movement. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

Imagining nomads as jihadists
The imaginations made of FLM certainly influences the ideas and images of the Fulani nomads in general. It is certainly reinforcing the vision of the Malian state and the population that these nomads are (potential) jihadists and hence enemies of the State. Distrust characterizes the relationship between the State and the Nomadic Fulani.
The quest for belonging and recognition therefore continues. The experience of not being listened to, the lack of care of the State and the ‘push’ towards the image of Jihadist, might finally turn into a reality as protection and security might be coming from the ‘Jihadist’ side. MUJAO, FLM, Al Qaida may step into that vacuum. It will reinforce the nomad’s experience with MUJAO in 2012. MUJAO was able to stabilize the region and give the nomads a feeling of basic security. If the State, or MUNISMA for that matter, does not guarantee security in the region, Jihadism may tip the balance of trust.

The hope for a good harvest, after waiting for a long time for the rains to come, will for now postpone such choice. However, a next dry season with severe harshness and without a good base to sustain their livelihood might push the nomads definitively to the camp of the Jihadists.

Academy and Art

Reflection on the Voice4Thought festival (Leiden, 24-30 August 2015)

Debate v4t


‘We need to bring these stories out’, said Chadian activist and political refugee Maina Ibangolo during the debate on the 28th of August: stories of the arrests in Congo five months ago, of  innocent citizens who simply demand their rights and are still in prison, of the student leader in Chad who was arrested and imprisoned for weeks without any solid accusation against him. It is frustration and hope that brings our invited panel together in Leiden. The official debate led by journalist Sophie van Leeuwen was preceded by informal discussions between the panel members. They were rather harsh and explicit about the atrocities done to their people, but also about the frustration that ‘nothing happens’.

The panel members agreed that there are differences between their countries: the diaspora seems to have more influence on the local political agendas; the youth in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, seem to share agitation and readiness to fight for freedom, but all in different ways. In Cameroon, as human rights activist Pangmashi Yenkong said: ‘the citizenry is docile, and probably not yet ready to fight’. Is change for them an illusion? For the Chadians Croquemort, slam artist, and Maina Ibangolo there is some hope as the recent marches in Chad indicate a growing activism among the youth. However, Croquemort pointed out that ‘there is still a long way to go’, adding: ‘we have to inform the people of their rights!’. The Chadian regime has cracked down on the youth, a harshness reinforced by laws permitting all conceivable measures against terrorism. These measures allow regimes to arrest whoever they want. But what then is the way forward? Who have to play the leading role and how?

Saskia Harmsen
from IICD, a development ICT organization, suggests: ‘What should precede ‘Voicing’ is that people should know. We should allow people to know and that goes with freedom of speech, and with information’. Burkino Faso rapper and leader of Balai Citoyen, Smockey, retorts with a shocking remark: ‘these intellectuals are useless’. His provocation is sustained by Mi Yangu Kiakwama Kia Kiziki from Congo protest movement Filimbi: ‘The intellectuals are important but they do too little. They do not really tell the truth to the ‘powers’’. Maina adds: ‘There is a need for alternative views’. The panel members agree that the export of democracy, of human rights, cannot be successful without a real reworking of these values for the various African societies. And Isa Yusibov, candidate for the European parliament of the liberal party D66, makes clear this is not only the case for Africa: countries in Eastern Europe face the same challenges.

Debates are needed, especially in the countries where it matters. Unfortunately, debates there are often blocked and will be more difficult to organize in the atmosphere of terrorism and threats that colors the societies that were represented during Voice4Thought.


#letslisten and letsdance

Artists Bryony BurnsSmockey,  Croquemort continued the discussions with intimate performances in the Hortus Botanicus on the 28th and the rock concert in Gebr. De Nobel on the 29th of August. Smockey is a rapper-activist, singing about the revolution and inviting people to join. The song he made with the Band4Thought made the public cry out for a different world; the song he composed with slammer Croquemort and the crew of Antilounge, an underground label specialized in electronic music, speaks out about sharing, in the words by Croquemort:

‘je crois au poids d’échange, de partage, qui baisse des canons au passage; je crois au forces de muscle poétiques et au coups de punch tonique (…) ; Je crois que je vois, Je crois que j’ai foi, je crois que c’est moi, je crois que c’est toi, je crois qu’on a un poids, je crois aux lois, je crois au partage de vois’.

On stage Smockey and Barbara Gwanmesia also impressed with the song: ‘Il faut qu’on partage’.

Croquemort’s urban critical poetry addressed the need to overcome divisions, as can be heard in Je suis du nord, je suis du sud; hopes for a better future, voiced in je voudrais devenir star; and, as we are all observing in our world, the skies are set on fire, voiced in les cieux ont déjà brûlé. This song talks about our present predicament of being caught in a circle of violence and having no answers. The sky, the world, is set on fire: IS, Boko Haram, MUJAO fighting, migrants from all over the world. Without knowing we increasingly share a discourse of division and non-sharing (in the case of Jihadism) but also (in the case of migrants) of sharing. This is why intellectuals should join these texts and indeed start to make a difference in a world that needs reflection!

The Ambassador


Behind all these expressions in words and music are deep structural factors that are not so easy to understand. Why are we in a world that sets the skies on fire? The differences between the countries are big, but there are similarities too. The films that were screened during the festival week were country specific but their themes apply to various countries. The Ambassador, by journalist Mads Brügger, beautifully reveals the international networks and criminality behind diplomacy; Un Homme Qui Crie evokes the emotional consequences of economic inequalities and war for ordinary citizens; and the comic story of Le Président is based on the situation in Cameroon with its president for eternity. These stories remind Isa and others of their own countries and the situation of the refugees that Europe reluctantly receives.

Recognition of differences but also the realization that we need a different solution for each situation is crucial. Back to the debate and song: ‘partage!’. Yes we can learn from each other, but we need to find our own specific way!

VJ Simple Productions

#letsexperience and #thinkcritically

The presentation of the VJ from Simple Productions, who combined the visual research material of the research project Connecting in Times of Duress with the songs and music, made the reflection on academic work and art into a real experience. This photo gallery shows the portraits of the V4Ts. They represent the research that is done in the program CTD and explicitly invite other voices to join the project. To present these people with their stories will further the debates about social change and future pathways. ‘Everybody has a voice’!

Going down the stairs from this photo gallery to the basement, a surprise was prepared for the visitors of the festival. Charlotte van Winden, an artist graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, presents ‘Boring Idiots’, showing everyday talk, everyday silliness; but beneath this ordinariness there are hidden voices. An implicit comment on the Voice4Thought project: beware there are no nobodies, and to end with Smockey: ‘Everybody has the right to be President’.

Boring Idiots


It is unusual to end a blog with thanks, but I make this exception: the festival could not have happened without Antilounge Record Label, Generator, Raw Bros, Kasper Kazil, Charlie & Gallus, Band4Thought, Simple Productions; Croquemort, Isa Yusibov, Kiakwama, Maina, Pangamshi, Saskia Harmsen, Smockey and debate moderator Sophie van Leeuwen; Elvire Eijkman, Fenneken Veldkamp and Marieke van Winden from the African Studies Centre (ASC);  the Leiden University crew and the CTD team; and last but not least, the organizing committee Cindy van der Aa, Eefje Gilbert and Amrit Dev Kaur Khalsa who have been on the top of their toes for at least two months!

And of course a big thanks for the financial support of ASC, Gemeente Leiden, the Faculty of Humanities, the Institute of History and the CTD research programme at Leiden University.